Viewpoint: Now is The time to act on doctor shortage
By CURT FIRESTONE
There is much that can be solved if British Columbia wants to solve the untenable lack of primary care providers in our provincial and local health-care system.
To start with, the “professionals” in the provincial and local health-care arenas need to open up a dialogue with the communities served. Community members who support the health-care system through taxes and patience have a right to fully understand the issues which have led to 900,000 British Columbians being orphaned by the primary health-care community. We should never forget that we live in Canada, where health care for all is considered a basic right. Community members are also a source for solutions to the problem, both by volunteering and by offering creative solutions.
On Salt Spring Island, over 10 years ago a Physician Recruitment Committee (PRC) was created upon the suggestion of one of the local physicians who had recently closed his outpatient practice. The PRC morphed into the Health Advancement Committee, which is now the Salt Spring Health Advancement Network (SSHAN). During a time when Salt Spring Island had sufficient medical doctors to meet the community’s needs, SSHAN shifted its focus to mental health and seniors. Now with the retirement and lack of replacement of three medical practitioners, maybe it is time for SSHAN to return to its original focus of recruiting and retaining primary care providers.
Five years ago, the Salt Spring Community Health Society (SSCHS) was created with the goal of creating a multi-professional community health centre in collaboration with local physicians. During the time when sufficient doctors were on Salt Spring, SSCHS also shifted its focus to mental health issues. Maybe it is time for SSCHS to return to its original focus of working with the community towards the development of a broad-based community health centre.
Housing is always mentioned as a problem for new doctors wanting to move to Salt Spring Island. Right now, the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation (LMHF) has purchased the Seabreeze motel to create housing as part of Island Health’s efforts to fill the 35 vacancies at Lady Minto Hospital. Some island businesses are providing housing for their workers. The SSCHS might consider using their registered charity status to replicate the LMHF efforts by raising the funds and purchasing housing for new doctors and nurse practitioners.
Provincial health authorities do not ask their hospital or clinic staff physicians and nurse practitioners to pay for office expenses. Why can’t the province provide the medical facilities and staffing for outpatient services? This will lessen the burden on outpatient practitioners and attract more physicians and nurse practitioners to reside in B.C.
Family doctors and nurse practitioners are critical primary care components of our health-care system. B.C. has focused on the creation of walk-in clinics, which lack clinical continuity.
It is easy to understand why so many people are saying that the B.C. health-care system is collapsing. Solutions are there. The time is long overdue for Salt Spring Island and B.C. to take action.
The writer is a former board member of the BC Rural Health Network and a Salt Spring Island resident.